Reprinted from Island Free Press
Future possibilities for restoring and rehabilitating the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse were outlined at a lightly attended public meeting Sept. 28 in Buxton.
National Parks of Eastern North Carolina Superintendent David Hallac led the meeting, an opportunity for the National Park Service to present the three primary options to enhance the lighthouse and the surrounding grounds.
These options include several big potential improvements, such as the replacement of the lighthouse beacon, extensive landscaping projects, and adding historical elements to restore the iconic structure back to its original 1870 appearance.
Now, the stage is set for the big next steps to be taken, which includes an overhaul of the ragged terrain bordering the lighthouse, extensive repairs to the metalwork and other inherent features, and the replacement of the beacon with either the original 1854 Fresnel lens, which is currently housed at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras village, or an identical-looking replica.
The project has been in the works for years, and the park service has received funding for the upcoming repairs and enhancements. The items that need to be addressed stemmed from the results of a 2014 Comprehensive Condition Assessment Report, and a 2016 Historic Structure Report.
Earlier this year, a team of historical architects, engineers, specialist contractors, and personnel from the State Historic Preservation Office and Cape Hatteras National Seashore got the ball rolling by removing the interior paint throughout the lighthouse – stripping the structure to its bare-bones brick interior – and identifying several surprising issues along the way.
Hallac outlined some of the damage that was uncovered during the paint removal process, such as deep cracks or patches of stucco-like material that had apparently been used at some point in the past 150 years to repair some sort of unknown issues.
“Our historic architects are starting to both literally and figuratively dig into these problems, and help us understand what should we do next,” said Hallac.
On a grander scale, Hallac noted that in addition to repairs, a good chunk of the coming work likely will focus on replacing many of the lighthouse’s modern additions with more authentic elements.
“Part of this project’s goal is to have as much of the original lighthouse restored as possible,” he said. “We’re seeking to fix all these issues, but also put these character-defining elements (from 1870) back into the lighthouse.” A prime example is the future replacement of the current light at the top, which is currently a modern beacon from around the 1950s.
“The landscape is also in disrepair,” he said. “So we are looking at ways to improve visitor circulation around the landscape, and restore the landscape… Additionally, we will be adding a replica fence around the keepers’ quarters, and will be enhancing the interpretive (displays) so visitors can have a much more immersive experience, and learn more about what they’re seeing.”
Hallac explained the three options.
Alternative 1 is no action at all, which Hallac said was unlikely due to the extensive repair work needed, and the funds already available.
Alternative 2 is to improve the landscape and lens, and new pedestrian paths, plantings and landscape improvements. The lens on loan to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras would remain on display.
Alternative 3 would include more elaborate landscape alterations than Alternative two multiple new pedestrian paths and the addition of a shade pavilion, sculpting gently raised berms to restore the natural landscape, partially or completely restoring the original Fresnel lens, and reinstalling it at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse with a new modern light source.
Hallac said that the exact timeframe for either of the two action options is unknown, but he expected the upcoming repairs and renovations to take a minimum of 24 months.
Though the overall lighthouse restoration project has been steadily progressing over the past several years, the current step in the process is the public review phase, which began Sept. 17 and ends Oct. 17. Comments can be submitted at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/caha_lighthouse, or mailed to Cape Hatteras National Seashore, ATTN: Superintendent, 1401 National Park Drive Manteo, N.C. 27954.
After assessing the public’s feedback on the proposed alternatives, an environmental assessment will be performed, and hopefully released by the end of the year. Another 30-day public review period before a final decision is made on the preferred alternative in the spring of 2022, followed by contractor bidding.
“We hope to have the project underway around this time in 2022,” said Hallac.
This story is provided courtesy of the Island Free Press, a digital newspaper covering Hatteras and Ocracoke islands. Coastal Review is partnering with the Free Press to provide readers with more environmental and lifestyle stories of interest along our coast.